By Adam Pulford, CTS Senior Coach
The last stage of La Ruta has the least amount of climbing as we head to the flat coast of the Caribbean, but don’t think that makes it any easier. What we encountered today was nothing short of epic.
The day started with a fast “neutral” start out of Turrialba into the first climbs of the day. Shorter, punchy hills made for hard efforts and fast descents. A mix of nice pavement, not-so-nice pavement, slick concrete and loose-rocky fire roads kept us on our toes. I hung back with an athlete today to make sure all was good going to the coast, so I wasn’t drilling it like the boys up front, but the data from the SRM power file shows it wasn’t a joy ride:
6hrs ride time, 83miles, 3500ft of climbing, 3850kJ, Normalized Power 211W, Average Power 176W
I kept temperature (in pink) displayed this time, as the PowerControl 7 head-unit also displays this. All other squiggly lines are the same. You can see how hot it gets heading toward the Caribbean; heat stress is just one element that makes the day exhausting; in the upper 90s for much of the day with 100% humidity… ug.
You can see elevation (in orange) start hilly and move to flat over the course of the day. I was trying to control the pace and power for a nice consistent, but speedy tempo much of the day. You can use HR to do this, but power is better as the HR is volatile to all the other stressors of the race: heat, hydration, terrain, group dynamics, leg speed… the list goes on. As I was trying to pace according to the group I was in, to keep everyone together, I could use the power meter to gauge where I needed to be, and it was quite helpful. I do this in training camps as well, but you can employ that technique in training, racing, or riding with your significant other.
Once we got over the hills, we set a good strong tempo on the flat section. I stayed at the front, controlling the pace and doing much of the work. I wanted to be sure to be the first into railroads and bridges because I know those who are not used to them can really slow you down. We established a solid group of 10 riders, on target for about a 4:40 or 4:45 for the day (which is a good time for this stage). Somewhere between aid station 3 and 4 we made a navigational mistake. I realized I hadn’t seen a marker in quite some time and started to be concerned. I was in a group of riders I knew were first timers and some that had done the race several times. All thought we were fine, so we kept charging. We then picked up 3 more riders on the route, only to come to a small town that wasn’t part of the course… we were lost. Some of the Spanish speaking cyclists in the group figured out which direction we should go, so we went. With forks in the roads, other deviations, and a few desperate moments, we made our way back to the town of Baton where aid station 4 was. Just in time too, because we were all out of fluids and food. We restocked, and got back on course. Needless to say, off the nice pace we had going to the tune of ~22miles, or over an hour of lost time. No bueno… I was with two of the women’s contenders for the podium, and now their chances for the win were gone.
But, do you know what? We were all reminded of a great life lesson today: you need to pay attention at all times, no matter how good things are going. Ruta is truly an adventure race where you not only are tested physically and mentally, but tactically and navigationally as well. You have to make sure you are navigating across the country properly with the markings. I’ve seen the course 5 times now, and I know other racers in our group had too. We were all at fault, knowing we got ourselves into a bit of a spot, but we made it back on course all together with positive attitudes. It could have been much worse. In fact, there were some other “challenges” taking place while we were navigating back to our route.
Just as we got back on course, we had athletes up ahead crossing railroad bridges suspended 10-30m above flowing rivers below. One group was only halfway across when a train came by. They simply stepped off to the side, let it past, remained calm, and onward they went. Another group encountered a swarm of bees! Hustling across they too survived with a few stings and stories to share when we all made our way back to ‘lay playa bonita’ (the beautiful beach) of Limon.
The story ends well. The two women I was with were out of contention with the overall, but because they were together, the overall GC didn’t change. Everyone else in our group survived and finished the race for the day. Professional athletes through weekend warriors, 19 out of the 20 athletes we brought down to La Ruta became “conquistadores” as they cruised over the finish line, and the one athlete who crashed on day 3 and couldn’t finish may be back next year to earn that title.
You’re guaranteed nothing on this adventure race of life, and you must work for what you get. Sure, some get lucky, but what I find is that the more prepared you are and the harder you work, the luckier you get so long as you keep a good attitude and pay attention to where you are headed. La Ruta de los Conquistadores is a bike race, but it’s more than that; it’s the hardest mountain bike race in the world and a personal journey for us all. The person you become, through the preparations of disciplined training and doing the event itself, is someone you never thought you’d be.
2012 is just around the corner. Be thinking about what you want to achieve next year, in your life as well as your sport, and Carmichael Training Systems will be there to help you achieve those goals. Set the bar high and have no fear, we'll get you there!